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Kent County: A great place to start a business and raise your family…..if you’re white

August 30, 2021

Last week, while several hundred people who oppose a mask mandate issue by the local Health Department addressed Kent County Commissioners, I went on the County’s site to look for some information.

While looking for information about the Commission meeting, I came across what you see here below, which is a screen shot that appears at the bottom of the Kent County Government site. This is how those at the Kent County government level want us to see the county, through these numbers and the organizations included here. Let’s take a critical look at this information and deconstruct it, since this is not the lived experience of thousands of people who live in this county.

So, there are seven ways that the county wants us to see them, and thus, the residents of this area. First, they present a Triple-A credit rating from Standard & Poors Global and from Moody’s Investor Services. Both entities are integral parts of the larger capitalist/investor sector, providing ratings on how financially sound an entity is. The metrics they use are biased in favor of what the capitalist/investor sector holds dear. Think of it like the GPD, the Gross Domestic Product, which is how countries often measure themselves. However, such measurements often do not take into account the quality of life for communities. 

The Kent County government might be considered fiscally sound, but how do we measure that in terms of the quality of life for the residents in Kent County? The county has a reserve of funds and has for years, so why is that money not invested in the most marginalized families in the county? For example, if we look at a report released in March of 2021, the Kent County Community Health Needs Assessment, we see a much different picture of the quality of life for people in this county. One major statistic from the report, focusing on economic security stands in sharp contrast to the Triple-A credit rating. The economic security statistic found in the report states, “1 in 4 people were unable to pay for housing, utilities, food or medical care in the past year.” This is a sobering contrast to how the County values fiscal security. 

The second selling point from Kent County is that this county is “ranked #1 metro area to raise a family out of 100 largest metros, according to Forbes. Again, what are the metrics being used to measure this reality? More importantly, the question should be which families are more likely to have a good quality of life in Kent County? Again, the Kent County Community Health Needs Assessment report can provide us with some useful comparisons. For white people, the unemployment rate is 3.5%, whereas for African Americans the number is 11.1%, more than 3 times higher. Another instructive statistic shows that the median household income for white families is $67,324, but for African Americans that number drops to $35,203. Kent County might be ranked #1 for white people to raise a family, but this is not the case for Black, Indigenous and other communities of color.

The third point that the County’s website brags about states, “Ranked #3 in Leading Locations Report,” from the Area Development Magazine. This designation has to do with best markets to do business in, as well as development projects. Kent County, and Grand Rapids in particular, have excelled in the going business and development arenas, since owning a business in this community as sacrosanct. 

Here, we could compare this ranking with housing in the community. Once again, the Kent County Community Health Needs Assessment report released earlier this year can provide us with some important information. The report identifies the following 4 points of input from the community:

  • Gentrification of Grand Rapids neighborhoods
  • Increasing rent prices 
  • Rental process is burdensome, competitive, and expensive when having to apply for multiple rental units 
  • Racial inequities in home ownership

An additional piece of data from the report states:

“In Kent County, non-Hispanic Whites make up 87.3% of all homeowners and 73.8% of the population. In Grand Rapids, this gap is even larger, despite a higher proportion of non-White homeowners in the city (21.6%), 78.4% of homeowners are non-Hispanic White compared to just 59.0% of the population.”

Once again, the ranking is only a benefit to certain sectors of those who live in Kent County.

The fourth point listed on the county’s site says, “2nd Best large city to start a business.” Again, the question should be asked if this is the case for everyone, or primarily for white people. We all know about the report from 2015, where Grand Rapids is the second worst city for African Americans economically, which also applied to Black businesses. There have been efforts to change that dynamic, in terms of Black people starting new businesses, but this has been slow going, especially with the onset of COVID in March of 2020. In some ways, it seems like this fourth ranking is especially insulting, since there isn’t much evidence that Black-run businesses are on the rise in a substantial way. One last point about the socio-economic condition of Black people in Kent County, is that according to the 2020 Census, Black people comprise 9.2% of the population, yet roughly 30% of those in the Kent County Jail are Black.

The bottom row, which includes three additional points that Kent County wants to celebrate, are instructive on a different level. None of the three points are about ranking, but they do make certain claims.

The fifth point says that Kent County is “A Great Place to Work.” This point includes as a sub-heading, which says, “Work where diversity, equity and inclusion matter.” I personally detest such phrases, but the point here is that there are literally thousands of people who work in Kent County who would disagree with such a statement. There are thousands of people who make minimum wage in Kent County, and thousands more who work for even less, especially wait staff and agricultural workers, where minimum wages laws don’t apply. Here the Kent County Community Health Needs Assessment report states that 20% of white people could not afford to pay for housing, utilities, food or medical care over the past year. When we look at African Americans the number rises to 41% and 47% for Latinos. Again, for whom is Kent County a great place to work?

The last two points made are just promotional statement for two organizations. Under the heading of, A Great Place for Business, it lists The Right Place Inc., which we identify as part of the Grand Rapids Power Structure. GRIID has also written numerous articles that have been critical of the practices of The Right Place Inc, which are numerous. In addition, it is instructive that the plug for The Right Place Inc, means that four out of seven of the points that Kent County wants to celebrate, are centered around business.

The last point has the heading, A Great Place to Play, with a link to Experience Grand Rapids. Now, a great deal of what Experience posts for play are things that cost money and disproportionately bring people to downtown Grand Rapids, which again leaves lots of people out of the equation.

So, while we are all focused on the anti-mask contingent who are hell-bent on putting us all at risk of COVID exposure, the government of Kent County quietly promotes this area as pro-business, along with a thinly veiled notion that this community is a great place to raise a family……if you are white. 

West Michigan Foundation Watch: Jerry & Marcia Tubergen Foundation – Practicing the politics of White Saviorism

August 29, 2021

To date, we have looked at the 990 documents for local foundations in 2021 for the Prince Family, the Richard & Helen DeVos Foundation, the Doug & Maria DeVos Foundation, the Dick & Betsy DeVos Foundation, the Dan and Pamela DeVos Foundation. the Cheri DeVos Foundation, also known as the CDV5 Foundation. Today, we want to look at the Jerry & Marcia Tubergen Foundation.

The Jerry & Marcia Tubergen Foundation may seem out of place, as they are not a household name, at least not the way that the DeVos family is. However, we are including them in this list, since Jerry Tubergen is an integral part of the DeVos family empire.

Jerry Tubergen is the CEO of one of the largest components of the DeVos empire, the RDV Corporation. In addition to being the CEO of RDV Corporation, Jerry Tubergen is listed as a trustee for every DeVos family foundation, according to the 990 reports that you can find on GuideStar.org Thus Jerry Tubergen is a trustee of the Dick & Betsy DeVos Foundation, the Doug & Maria DeVos Foundation, the Dan & Pamela DeVos Foundation, the Richard & Helen DeVos Foundation and the Cheri DeVos Foundation – known as the CDV5 Foundation. Lastly, Tubergen is the CEO of Ottawa Private Capital LLC, an entity which manages all of the DeVos family investments. 

As you can see, Jerry Tubergen is deeply embedded in the DeVos family empire. Therefore, it is worth looking at the foundation that is named after him and his wife. 

The Jerry & Marcia Tubergen Foundation is not as large as the various DeVos family foundations, but the foundation’s assets are listed at just over $18 million. According to the most recent 990 document (2019) for the Jerry & Marcia Tubergen Foundation, this foundation contributed $3,784,970. 

So where does an integral part of the DeVos empire chose to contribute part of the money he makes managing the wealth of the wealthiest family in West Michigan?

A review of the 990 records (2019) for the Jerry & Marcia Tubergen Foundation, clearly shows that they contributed to a lot of Christian organizations, particularly the kind that engage in White Savior politics and can be classified as part of the Religious Right. When we say White Saviorism, we mean White centered organizations that are making decisions about how to help communities of color, without 1) asking those communities what they want, and 2) without addressing the root causes of poverty or the structural racism that plagues these communities.

Here are some of those Christian groups they contribute to, along with the amount they contributed in 2019. 

Ada Bible Church $20,000

Alpha USA $33,000

Cornerstone University $205.000

Cure International Inc. $2,500,000

God’s World Publications, Inc. $5,000

Guiding Light Mission Inc. $5,000

Hope International $10,000

Mel Trotter Ministries $25,000

Moriah Ministries $15,000

Museum of the Bible Inc. $100,000

North Coast Christian Ministries Inc $10,000

Open Doors With Brother Andrew Inc. $125,000

Potters House $30,000

Pregnancy Resource Center $15,000

Relational Concepts, Inc. $25,000

Right to Life Educational Fund $5,000

That Day $61,000

The Cause Inc. $57,500

Truth for Life $20,000

As you can see, the majority of the organizations that the Jerry & Marcia Tubergen Foundation have contributed to fall under the categories of Conservative Christian groups and those that practice White Saviorism, with the largest contribution going to Cure International Inc – $2,500,000. 

While there might not appear to be anything unusual about where the Jerry & Marcia Tubergen Foundation directs their contributions, it is important to think about one glaring fact. The person who manages all of the DeVos family investments, Jerry Tubergen, makes it a point to direct the bulk of the contributions from his foundation to Conservative Christian organizations, many of which practice White Saviorism. 

Update on Grand Rapids Participatory Budgeting Project: Will marginalized voices really be at the table?

August 26, 2021

In early June, the City of Grand Rapids had announced that it would be engaging in a Participatory Budgeting Pilot Project. We wrote about the announcement at that time and expressed some skepticism of what the experiment would result in.

We expressed four reasons for skepticism, such as 1) pre-determined parameters for how the money could be spent, 2) the creation of steering committees for each of the three city wards, 3) a timeline that was too short, and 4) limiting the amount of influence the public can have on determining how the City’s annual budget will be spent.

On Tuesday, during the Committee of the Whole meeting, the city staffer who has been overseeing the Participatory Budgeting Pilot Project, provided an update. One glaring thing that was evident, is that the original timeline was way off target. The initial timeline had the public input and vote to be completed by August 29. As of the Tuesday’s presentation, the steering committees had only been able to complete some goals for the outcome of the project.

As was acknowledged in the original document from June, other cities had allotted 9 – 12 months for the process, but Grand Rapids was still committed to a shorter timeline. Their new timeline projects that there would be public engagement in September and October, which begins in less than a week and there are no planned dates as of yet. There would be a public voting process, but as of right now, there is no timeline set for when that will happen.

Those who have agreed to be on the three steering committees are somewhat representative of the community, but there are people who are too connected to power that are involved. One example is Kristian Grant, who is the President of the Grand Rapids School Board. What many other Participatory Budgeting Projects have found is that it is critical to have people who are normally not at the table, play a much larger role than just attending the public input meetings. In fact, one of the goals that the steering committee members came up with was, “to amplify marginalized voices,” which voices who are not already in positions of influence.

In addition, the steering committees have come up with a vision statement, which reads:

Our work will be guided by the value of equity, with an intentional and transparent process designed to include marginalized voices, people with lived experience, and diverse groups. This process will be structured to remove barriers and build community capacity.

Such a statement sounds good, but it is another thing to make sure that such a vision is implemented. For instance, how will the City engage people to be part of the process? How will people who are marginalized have the time to participate in such a project. To her credit, Commissioner Ysasi did say during the discussion at Tuesday’s meeting that paying people to participate is a good faith demonstration that you want marginalized voices to participate. One could go further by saying that the City would not just pay people to participate, but provide free transportation, child care and food for those who are able to attend. Of course, community engagement should always practice full accessibility, which includes physical accessibility, thinking about the process being multi-lingual, and lots of options for people to attend and participate that provide people with lots of opportunity to be involved.

In contrast, during the Tuesday morning Committee of the Whole meeting, 3rd Ward Commissioner Moody stated that he wanted to have a larger role in the process. Having those with power have a larger role is a fundamental violation of the Participatory Budgeting Process, which leads me to think that some of the Commissioners do not fully understand what Participatory Budgeting really looks like. You can watch the Participatory Budgeting update during the Committee of the Whole meeting, which begins at 2:35:40 into the meeting.

Deconstructing the argument against Critical Race Theory from a DeVos operative and President of the Michigan Freedom Fund, Greg McNeilly

August 25, 2021

Last week, Chairman of the Michigan Freedom Fund and DeVos-operative Greg McNeilly, wrote an opinion piece for the Detroit News, entitled, Where do Michigan leaders stand on critical race theory? 

Now, we all know that the far right loves to use wedge issues to rally their base and to attack their political opponents. Therefore, it is no surprise that the head of the Michigan Freedom Fund would write an opinion piece in one of Michigan’s largest newspapers use one of the major wedge issues of 2021, Critical Race Theory (CRT).

However, it is useful to deconstruct the argument that McNeilly presents, which ultimately demonstrates how weak their arguments are. The DeVos-operative begins the opinion piece with this paragraph:

There’s a debate raging in Washington, D.C., Lansing, local governments and school districts over the merits of individual freedom, equality and even capitalism: Do we embrace the American dream and our commitment to liberty — the qualities that have long made the United States “a shining city on a hill,” or are equality and opportunity no longer worth protecting?

From the very get go, McNeilly wants to frame Critical Race Theory as being in opposition to freedom, equality and capitalism, without initially using the term Critical Race Theory. This is a standard approach when attempting to discredit an issue, by making sweeping generalizations or misrepresenting the issue you are attacking. While it is true that Critical Race Theory is highly critical of the economic system of Capitalism, saying that it is in opposition to equality and freedom is nothing short of ridiculous. Critical Race Theory challenges the dominant narrative about US history, one that is centered around privilege and White Supremacy. In fact, Critical Race Theory is deeply committed to freedom and equality, since it demonstrates that the those with power and privilege in the US, which are primary white people, have obtained their wealth and privilege at the expense of Black, indigenous and other communities that have been exploited and oppressed since the US was founded.

McNeilly’s “evidence” to back up his position on CRT, is to cite a critic, which is nothing more than a single article written in the New York Post by a writer from the Manhattan Institute. Now, the Manhattan Institute is a far right Think Tank that was founded by Reagan’s CIA Director, William Casey. Naturally, the Manhattan Institute would be opposed to CRT, since their existence is based on defending Capitalism. 

McNeilly continues his argument by stating that, “high-ranking Michigan politicos, from Gov. Gretchen Whitmer to prominent metro Detroit members of Congress,” have avoided talking about CRT when confronted.

However, before McNeilly provides any evidence of this claim he says that we should really be concerned about where CRT is being pushed……”kindergarten classrooms.” Now, such a claim is absurd, but McNeilly wants readers to believe his point because he cites another Manhattan Institute writer, who claims to have “more than 1,000 stories in schools and other public institutions, where CRT policies have directed kids do things like celebrate communism.” However, the source that McNeilly is citing, which was an article that appeared in Newsweek, only has a few school examples, not 1,000 that McNeilly claims.

McNeilly then presents another sentence that misrepresents CRT, with language that is sure to wind up anyone who doesn’t believe in thinking for themselves, saying:

CRT advocates claim the American system is broken. They say our nation was never great, and it can’t be until things like capitalism, federalism and individual responsibility are upended.

The Chair of the Michigan Freedom Fund continues his weak argument by presenting a poll taken in January of this year, which appeared in The Economist. McNeilly says the “poll shows the overwhelming majority oppose CRT.” Overwhelming majority is a bit of a stretch and McNeilly omits that in the same poll most people those racism was not so much an individual problem, rather a larger structural problem. 

In the rest of the opinion piece, McNeilly then goes after Gov. Whitmer and two Metro Detroit Democratic Congress members. To “discredit” these Democratic officials, McNeilly cites an article from the Washington Free Beacon and The Center Square. Not surprising, both of these news sources embrace a far right political perspective.

Therefore, as anyone can see, Greg McNeilly has no real argument against Critical Race Theory. McNeilly simply presents a series of weak positions that are all coming from sources that embrace and defend far right political policies. However, if people didn’t know who these sources were, then it would be easy to buy into their rhetoric about how scary Critical Race Theory is.

Besides not presenting an accurate view of what Critical Race Theory is all about, McNeilly conveniently omits the fact that Republican state legislators introduced a bill in the Michigan Senate to ban Critical Race Theory from being taught in public schools.

Lastly, it is important to point out that Greg McNeilly is the Windquest Group’s Chief Operating Officer (owned by Dick & Betsy DeVos), has served on the Board of Directors of the DeVos-created Great Lakes Education Project, and is a board member of the Grand Rapids Downtown Development Authority. So, it is very clear that in every aspect of Greg McNeilly’s professional life, he would want to oppose Critical Race Theory, since he works to defend the system of Capitalism and those that benefit from it.

Grand Rapids participates in the 1963 March on Washington: Media Coverage and White Paternalism

August 25, 2021

Fifty-eight years ago this week, hundreds of thousands of people participated in the 1963 March on Washington. Dozens of people from Grand Rapids also made the trek to demand racial justice, jobs and freedom. In what follows we take a look at the Grand Rapids Press coverage of the march in Detroit (in June of 1963) and the larger march on August 28th in Washington, DC. Here is a link to all of the articles from the GR Press for both marches in 1963

Detroit march was a testing ground for DC

There were two articles in the Grand Rapids Press (Pages 1 – 4) about the march on Detroit in June of 1963, some two months before the march on Washington. Neither of the articles on the Detroit march were on the front page and a great deal of the focus was on whether or not the march was peaceful. There was some coverage of the fact that a list of demands on civil rights were made, but only a few of those demands were mentioned in the articles.

The June 23, 1963 march on Detroit was organized primarily by Dr. King’s organization, the Southern Christian Leadership Conference and the UAW. Both Dr. Martin Luther King Jr. and the UAW President Walter Reuther were featured speakers at the march.

In many ways, the Detroit march was held as sort of a test run to see if these organizations could pull off a march with hundreds of thousands of people. Detroit was chosen because the UAW had a large number of union members in the Motor City and Detroit was also one of the most critical northern cities with a major black population that was representative of police violence against blacks and other forms of structural racism.

In Preparation for the 1963 March on Washington

The first article on the 1963 march on Washington, DC, is a piece about the various groups that were organizing delegations to participate. The GR Press article (on page 5) states that the UAW, the NAACP and the Congress on Racial Equality (CORE), were all sending people to participate in the historic march.

The same article in the GR Press mentions that the AFL-CIO, the Grand Rapids Urban League and the Human Relations Commission from the City of Grand Rapids, did not send their members to the historic march.

The first article on the march in August of 1963 (page 6) uses a photo of marchers with the Washington Monument in the background, with the headline that read, “Huge Rights Parade in Capital Orderly.”

The national mainstream news coverage of the march on Washington was obsessed with the idea that the only way that the march could be successful would be if it was passive and orderly. In fact, most of the major labor organizations and the Catholic Church told Dr. King and the other Civil Rights leaders that if civil disobedience would be part of the march, they would pull their support.

Another aspect of the march on Washington, DC in 1963, which is rarely discussed or even acknowledged, is that the Federal government had mobilized the military and law enforcement to make sure that people were not going to disrupt business as usual in the nation’s capital.

According to Gary Younge’s book, The Speech, the White House codenamed the March on Washington, Operation Steep Hill. Younge writes, “One thousand troops and 30 helicopters were deployed in the DC area. The Pentagon put 19,000 troops on stand by. The Eighty Second Airborne Division, based in Fort Bragg, North Carolina, stood by with C-82 boxcars loaded with guns, ammunition, and food, ready at a moment’s notice to make the 320 mile trip to Andrews Air Force Base in Maryland, from which soldiers would be dispatched to the Mall by helicopter to quell riots. About six thousand law enforcement officers of different kinds would be deployed that day, all armed with guns, clubs and tear gas. The one concession to civil rights sensitivities was that there would be no dogs.”

This was the context in which the march took place, in terms of what the state was willing to allow, for those that took part in the historic march. 

On page 10 of the document, the Grand Rapids Press did publish a list of the 10 demands that the marchers were bringing to the nation’s capital that day.

The very next article on page 11 & 12, shows marchers from Grand Rapids meeting with then Congressman Gerald R. Ford, with a headline reflecting how Congress was not in a hurry to listed to the demands of the marchers.

The subsequent article on page 13 provides some feedback from the Kennedy Administration on the historic march. Kennedy is quoted as saying he thinks the march help to further the “Negro cause.” What the GR Press article does not mention is that President Kennedy pleaded with the organizers of the 1963 march to stress personal responsibility. “It seems to me with all the influence that all you gentlemen have in the Negro community, that we could emphasize, which I think the Jewish community has done, on educating their children, on making them study, making them stay in school and all the rest.” Such sentiment is in direct contradiction of what the march organizers were demanding.

One final article from the Grand Rapids Press coverage of the 1963 March on Washington, was written after the marchers had returned from DC. The photo that accompanies the article shows 5 people, 4 with the NAACP and one from the UAW, looking at newspaper coverage of the march.

The article that accompanied the photo provided some basic reflection from the 5 featured in the article, about what they liked and what they were impressed by. Unfortunately, the article did not reflect any sense of urgency that the marchers had brought to DC that day, not much of a sense of the efforts put into making the march happen or the larger historical context of the 1963 march on Washington. Besides Gary Younge’s book, The Speech, another excellent resource is, Nobody Turn Me Around: A People’s History of the 1963 March on Washington, by Charles Euchner.

The Grand Rapids Press editorial and White Paternalism

In Jeanne Theoharis’s important book, A More Beautiful and Terrible History: The Uses and Misuses of Civil Rights History, she makes the point that we often look back to events like the 1963 march on Washington and think that the majority of the country supported such events.

The reality is much different. In fact, the federal government was monitoring the organizing leading up to the march and the event that day on August 28, 1963. The federal government was so concerned about what might be said, that they had it set up that they could cut the sound system when necessary, to make sure people were not calling for an uprising that day.

The major news outlets around the country reported on the march with some suspicion, specifically how the march was too polarizing and that it did not reflect what most Americans wanted. This sentiment was true, based on polls taken during the 1960s. According to Theoharis, a Gallup Poll taken in 1961, showed that only 22 percent of Americans polled supported the Freedom Rides. In 1968, another poll that was taken by Gallop, shortly after Dr. King was assassinated, showed that 73% of whites said that blacks in their community were treated the same as whites.

As an example of how the news media played a role in forming public opinion about the Black Freedom Struggle, let’s take a look an editorial from the Grand Rapids Press about the 1963 March on Washington.

Besides the Grand Rapids Press editorial on the 1963 march on Washington, we include three opinion pieces from non-Grand Rapids sources. We include these pieces, because this is what people were reading in the Grand Rapids Press in the editorial section, which also influences how people understand what took place in the summer of 1963 – which are linked here.

The Grand Rapids Press editorial uses supportive language and taken out of context might seem like those who wrote this editorial were endorsing the 1963 march on Washington. However, upon closer review, within historic context, we can see that this editorial is really framed through the lens of White Paternalism.

The Press editorial staff practices White Paternalism by using phrases like, “more orderly and better controlled.” This signals that had there been any civil resistance, the marchers would have lost all credibility in the eyes of the GR Press editorial staff. The fact is, that the Southern Christian Leadership Conference and other black groups involved wanted to have civil disobedience as part of the march, but they were pressured by the Kennedy administration, the AFL-CIO and the Catholic Church not to engage in that kind of action.

The Press editorial writer then goes on to say that “this was a responsible assembly,” and then he compares it to the negative response from David Lawrence’s commentary, which the Press published alongside their editorial. (see link above).

Apparently the restraint exhibited in the marchers was also a demonstration to the world that these kinds of actions need not be violent, which would surely have been the case if this took place in Russia, at least according to the GR Press editorial.

The rest of the editorial again valorizes the fact that there was no violence expressed on the part of the marchers. Nothing is included in the editorial about what it was that those who spoke or the march organizers were demanding from the federal government. In fact, the only person identified by name in the editorial, was Congressman Gerald Ford. Black voices were not centered in this editorial, indeed they were completely absent and seemingly irrelevant.

Ironically, there was violence at the 1963 march on Washington. The violence was demonstrated on the part of the state, by rigging the microphone to cut off if what was said was not found acceptable. There was the threat of violence with the presence of over 1,000 cops ready to arrest people if they were not “orderly.” Then there was the violence of state surveillance, since we know that the communications between organizers was being monitored and their hotel rooms were being bugged by the FBI. In fact, there were an estimated 150 FBI agents there, just to monitor the crowd, according to Gary Younge’s book, The Speech.

In addition, there was the systemic violence, which is why thousands came to DC, to express their grievances. The segregation, the white supremacy and the brutality of police violence that black people experienced on a regular basis, were the grievances people brought to the nation’s capitol, as Dr. King pointed out in his speech at the march on Washington.  King also made it clear that the federal government failed to make good on its promissory note to blacks to be granted equal rights. King makes it clear that the violence of poverty, poor housing and lack of jobs for black people was the violence that the system imposed on black people every day.

As we remember the historic march on Washington in 1963, we should all be asking ourselves why the same grievances are at the forefront of the Black Freedom Struggle 58 years later?

West Michigan Foundation Watch: CDV5 Foundation – Just another DeVos Foundation funding the Religious Right and charity projects that don’t threaten Capitalism

August 23, 2021

To date, we have looked at the 990 documents for local foundations in 2021 for the Prince Family, the Richard & Helen DeVos Foundation, the Doug & Maria DeVos Foundation, the Dick & Betsy DeVos Foundation and the Dan and Pamela DeVos Foundation. Today, we want to examine the most recent 990 documents for the Cheri DeVos Foundation, also known as the CDV5 Foundation.

Of all of the DeVos family foundations, CDV5 is the one that people are least likely to know about. Named after Cheri DeVos VanderWeide. She is also a sibling of Dick, Dan and Doug DeVos, yet she has managed to not have the same kind of name recognition that the other children of Richard & Helen DeVos. Despite Cheri’s anonymity, the CDV5 Foundation has assets of $62 million dollars, according to GuideStar. Cheri DeVos has been involved in Amway, RDV Corp and other DeVos-owned entities. She attended 4 years at Hope College and like her siblings, makes significant contributions to the Republican Party every election cycle.

The CDV5 Foundation contributes to many of the same sectors that the other DeVos family foundations do, with a bit more emphasis on contributions that stay in West Michigan. Here is a breakdown of the CDV5 Foundation contributions for 2019, which is the most recent 990 document available to the public.

Conservative Christian groups 

Hope Academy of West Michigan $292,885

Base Camp Urban Outreach $40,000

Bridge Street House of Prayer $115,000

Grand Rapids Initiative for Leaders $22,000

Keystone Community Church $400,000

Potters House $75,000

Rehoboth Christian School Association $100,000

Young Life $75,000

Think Tanks and Policy Organizations – These groups all have a documented history of promoting Capitalism, opposing labor unions, undermining public education, and create policy positions that are often adopted by state and federal lawmakers. 

Mackinac Center for Public Policy $100,000

Higher Education – Many of these universities or colleges have buildings or business schools named after the DeVos family.

Grand Rapids Community College Foundation $750,000

Grand Valley State University $500,000

Hope College $150,000

Organizations that are run by DeVos Family members

West Michigan Aviation Academy $365,000

ArtPrize $50,000

Orlando Magic Youth Foundation $270,000

The three largest donations from the CDV5 Foundation are Kids Food Basket – $600,000, Grand Rapids White Water Inc. – $525,000, and the George W. Bush Foundation – $500,000. All three of these entities fit within the framework of DeVos foundation contributions, with Kids Food Basket being a charity that does not deal with root causes of hunger; Grand Rapids White Water Inc., which will promote business development/gentrification along the Grand River, particularly in the downtown corridor; and the George W. Bush Foundation, which props up the legacy of a President that embraced Corporate Capitalism and US Militarism. 

Moms for America holds press conference in Grand Rapids to oppose school mask mandates, while MLive fails to reveal the group’s far right politics

August 20, 2021

Yesterday, the national organization, Moms for America, held a press conference in Grand Rapids, to protest the growing number of schools that now have mask mandates in place because of the growing COVID threat.

Kimberly Fletcher, founder of Moms For America, along with Cindy Chafian, director of coalitions and engagement for Moms for America Action, both spoke during the press conference and were the only sources cited in an MLive article, headlined: Moms for America Action group calls for parents to ‘strike’ against K-12 schools that mandate masking.

Besides quoting two members of Moms for America, the MLive story provided minimal context on mask mandates in West Michigan schools. More importantly, the MLive article provides no information on the history and politics of Moms for America. This omission is significant, especially since Mom’s for America is very much a part of the far right movement in the US that embraces an ideology that places people in danger and contributes to real harm being done to some of the most vulnerable communities in the country.

According to the Moms for America website, it says that the group was founded in 2004 and originally operated out of Dayton Ohio. However, as the organization grew, Mom’s for American now lists Mansfield, Texas as its headquarters.

Moms for America’s mission states:

Our Mission is to build a foundation of liberty in the homes of America, through the mothers of America, to raise a new generation of patriots, and heal our nation from the inside out.

While the mission statement is rather vague, it is clear that Moms for America embrace a far right political perspective. All one has to do is investigate their website, their Facebook page, their Instagram account and their YouTube channel to get a sense of what their organization is all about. 

I looked at their Facebook page going back as far as the Spring of 2020, and here are some of the things Mom’s for America has posted:

  • Moms for America clearly condemns the Black-led uprisings that took place all over the country after the police murdered George Floyd. In fact, Moms for America regularly refers to Black Lives Matter as a Marxist entity that hates America.
  • Moms for America made numerous posts in support of the nomination of Amy Coney Barrett, then celebrated her appointment to the US Supreme Court. Many of their posts also celebrated Barrett’s far right religious views.
  • Moms for America condemns the teaching of Critical Race Theory and often posts that  the country is being overrun with Socialist, because Marxism is being taught in the public schools.
  • In March of 2021, Moms for America held a rally along the US/Mexican border called Secure Our Borders. At this rally they condemned the undocumented immigrants who enter the US, denote the fact that so many of the immigrants coming from Central America and Mexico are mothers with children.
  • Moms for America was an integral part of the Stop the Steal protest around the US, thus clearly demonstrating their partisan bias in support of the GOP.
  • Moms for America also held a rally near the US Capitol in Washington, DC, on January 5th, the day before hundreds of people stormed the Capitol building. The Mom’s for America organized rally on January 5th was called, Save the Republic.

These bullet points provide a pretty clear picture of what Moms for America is all about. So what about their leadership? The most visible leader within Moms for America is Kimberly Fletcher, who is the founder of the group and the person who spoke yesterday in Grand Rapids. Fletcher is a regular columnist for the online forum called Townhall, which also features columnists such as Ben Shapiro, Ann Coulter, Dinesh D’Souza, John Stossel and Pat Buchanan. 

Other members of the leadership team of Moms for America include: Meredith Iler, President of The Strategic Alliance; Rose Tennent, the host of the radio show called Rose Unplugged https://www.roseunplugged.com/; Rebecca Friedrichs, who wrote the book, Standing Up to Goliath: Battling State and National Teachers’ Unions for the Heart and Soul of Our Kids. 

All of the information we just provided is the kind of information that the MLive writer should have provided, yet didn’t. In addition, the mLive writer should have asked why Moms for America, a group that is based in Texas, would hold a press conference in Grand Rapids. In fact, this is an important question for all of us, especially for parents, students and community members who have serious concerns about public health and public safety. With Covid cases on the rise in Kent County, we should all be concerned about groups like Moms for America who claim to advocate for freedom, but in reality they threaten the health and safety of everyone in this community.

Misinformation and Copaganda: Why Johnny Brann Sr and Voice for the Badge are full of shit!

August 19, 2021

Over the past several years the local group, Voice for the Badge, has made it clear that they will oppose any individual or community based group that is critical of the GRPD. Voice for the Badge first showed up at City Commission meetings when members of the Black community, Movimiento Cosecha GR and GR Rapid Response to ICE began to challenge the actions of the GRPD and even called for Captain VanderKooi to be fired for contacting Immigration and Customs Enforcement (ICE), just because the person was latinx.

In just the past year, Voice for the Badge has complained every time people in the community have called for defunding the GRPD. Not only have they complained when the community calls for defunding the GRPD, Voice for the Badge has made it clear that they are in opposition to the Office of Public Accountability and most of the City officials because they do not worship the GRPD.

Voice for the Badge is not a well organized entity, which relies primarily on their founder, Johnny Brann Sr. In fact, Mr. Brann is the only person who seems to make posts on their Facebook page. This actually makes it easier for those of us who are calling for the GRPD to be defunded, since Mr. Brann doesn’t have a very good analysis of policing, but it’s also because he regularly engages in disseminating misinformation on the VFB Facebook page.

For example, here is what Johnny Brann Sr. posted this past Tuesday, August 17th:

GRPD in the news again!!!  Negative of course.

Media – How bout taking a week off and let our men and women in Blue take a breather.  Then you can start back up reporting the negatives-like you normally do. If the media will ever report the other side-G.R. citizens would be flabbergasted with the seriousness of the issues in regards  to  our city being less safe for our citizens and our –GRPD due to many factors.

Make no mistake about it our city is currently less safe and it’s  going to get worse.

Thank you,

Johnny  Brann Sr

There are several things about this post that just are not based in fact, which we will get to. However, let’s start with the GRPD being in the news again. This reference is to a few news agencies highlighting a virtual public forum that the Grand Rapids Chapter of the NAACP had hosted, a forum that was questioning the efficacy of the GRPD wanting to use drones for surveillance in the city. 

The NAACP forum was fundamentally about accountability and to demand that the public have more say on policing, in this case the GRPD’s use of technology. However, for Johnny Brann Sr. it is unacceptable to question the motives of the GRPD, since cops are not only heroes, but they “keep the rest of us safe.” Now, the news coverage in this case was not negative, it was actually a story that demonstrates that people in this city want to be engaged in the democratic process and want more accountability for how their tax dollars are being used. The GRPD gets their budget from Grand Rapids taxpayers, therefore those who live in this community have a duty and a right to question how the GRPD spends their money.

Johnny Brann Sr. doesn’t stop with just this one news story, he goes on to make the claim that news reporting is always negative when covering the GRPD. Maybe this message sells to people who don’t believe in critical thinking, but Johnny Brann Sr’s statement just isn’t based in fact. All one has to do is to look at any given week and you will see plenty of stories that rely exclusively on information given to the news media that comes directly from the GRPD. Every story that has to do with an arrest, a recent shooting, a breaking and entering violation or a high speed chase, are all stories that are based on what the Grand Rapids Police Department shares with the local news agencies. In addition, those stories never question the information coming from the GRPD, nor do those stories seek out community sources that are independent of the GRPD, thus the steady stream of crime stories essentially makes the GRPD the arbiters of truth.

On top of all of the crime-based news that relies on information from the GRPD, there are also regular stories about members of the GRPD who are doing work that is not related to crime, but are purely feel good stories that we often refer to as Copaganda. For example, a few weeks ago there was a story about a GRPD officer who has been helping teenagers who are in the process of getting a driver’s license. These kinds of Copaganda stories are often picked up by local news agencies, plus they are disseminated through various forms of social media.

So basically, Johnny Brann Sr. is full of shit with his Facebook pronouncements. The posts made on the Voice for the Badge page are never supported with facts or data, and often rely on claims that essentially act as misinformation. 

Take for instance, the last sentence in the VFB post we shared above, which says:

Make no mistake about it our city is currently less safe and it’s  going to get worse. There is no data to support the claim that the city isn’t safe, nor that it is going to get much worse. However, facts and data aren’t necessary, especially if your goal is to get people to blindly believe one of the worst propaganda claims in this country, which says that police departments exist to “protect and to serve.”  

Far Right groups collaborate to deregulate requirements for rental properties in Michigan

August 18, 2021

Last week, the West Michigan Policy Forum (WMPF), which is one of the main organizations in the Grand Rapids Power Structure, posted an article on their Facebook page from the Mackinac Center for Public Policy.

The Mackinac Center for Public Policy is a far right Think Tank based in Midland, Michigan and is part of the State Policy Network, which coordinates far right Think Tanks from all around the US and “operates as the policy, communications, and litigation arm of the American Legislative Exchange Council. 

The article that the WMPF posted was entitled, You Shouldn’t Need a License to Work as a Property Manager. This article from the Mackinac Center for Public Policy, is essentially about proposed legislation in Michigan to eliminate any licensing requirements for those who want to be a rental property manager. The proposed bill is HB 4549, and was introduced by Rep. Michele Hoitenga (R) from the 102nd District.

The post by the WMPF of the article from the Mackinac Center for Public Policy is significant for two main reasons. First, the WMPF and the Mackinac Center for Public Policy share a similar overall ideology, which is Neoliberal Capitalism. One of the principles of Neoliberal Capitalism is to de-regulate the market, which will reduce government regulation of everything that could diminish profits, including protecting the environment and promoting safety on the job.

This is significant right now in Michigan, as property values and rent costs have risen over the past decade, thus reducing the amount of affordable housing. While housing and rental costs have risen significantly, wages have not, thus forcing hundreds of thousands of Michiganders to be priced out of the housing market. Therefore, eliminating licensing requirements for Property Managers, just makes it easier for more people to exploit the current housing market.

Not surprising, the Rental Property Owners Association of Michigan is also supporting this legislation, as is reflected on their website. The Rental Property Owners Association has spent lots of money to pay lobbyists who work to push this kind of legislation through, as well as contributing lots of money to state legislators who embrace the market-driven aspects of the current housing market in Michigan.

The second reason why it is significant for the West Michigan Policy Forum to post this article (and many others) from the Mackinac Center for Public Policy, is because the main core of the WMPF leadership are major financial contributors to the far right Think Tank. Those from the Executive Committee of the Board of Directors for the WMPF who have contributed hundreds of thousands of dollars in recent years to the Mackinac Center for Public Policy are Doug DeVos, Michael Jandernoa and Peter Secchia. Another member of the WMPF’s Executive Committee, J.C. Huizenga, sits on the Board of Directors of the Mackinac Center for Public Policy.

These types of inter-locking systems of power – financial, political and ideological – are a significant feature of the far right political movement in the US. Therefore, it is important for those of use who stand in opposition to these kinds of policy changes to be aware of how West Michigan-based groups like the West Michigan Policy Forum are connected to groups like the Mackinac Center for Public Policy and the State Policy Network, for the purposes of pushing a broad Neoliberal Capitalist agenda, which impacts most of the issues that grassroots & community-based organizers are working on. 

Confronting West Michigan Nice: An interview with Shayna Akanke Marie

August 17, 2021

We recently interviewed Shayna Akanke Marie, the host and creator of the podcast Reachin and Reaching Beyond Bias. https://www.reachingbeyondbias.org/ 

GRIIDYou will be presenting at an upcoming Freed Peoples Teach-in your insights on what many people commonly refer to as West Michigan Nice. Can you give us a working definition of what the phrase means to you?

ShaynaTo me, West Michigan Nice is our ability as a community to collectively put on our blinders. Rather than address sensitive issues because they are “too controversial”, we pretend that they are not happening, or we downplay its effects. Our brand of niceness allows some people to maintain guilt-free comfort and status quo while others suffer. 

GRIIDIn your essay on this topic, you discuss the fact that Grand Rapids is a city that claims to have lots of institutions practicing Diversity and Inclusion, yet the city is still steeped in racialized oppression. Can you talk about the difference between diversity and inclusion practices as opposed to dismantling White Supremacy?

ShaynaThe fascinating thing about Grand Rapids is that from the outside looking in, it seems to be very progressive. You see Pride Flags and Black Lives Matter stickers on business store fronts, but then when you ask what life looks like for LGBTQ+ people and / or people of color who work at those establishments, you get a different story. Diversity simply means having people who are “different” represented in a space. Inclusion speaks more to those “others” feeling as though they belong in that space. (Side note – the fact that these “others” are “other” relative to…. Whiteness? Heteronormativity? Says a lot). So, it’s very “nice” to bring different perspectives to the table… to make them “feel” like they belong, but frankly diversity and inclusion does nothing real to address racialized disparities that have been formed throughout the history of this city. I see diversity and inclusion practices as surface-level, box-checking that companies do in order to be considered “not racist.” But when it comes to actively dismantling White Supremacy, well, that doesn’t seem to be in everyone’s best interest. Dismantling White Supremacy goes beyond hiring practices… beyond having a “Holiday Party” at work instead of a “Christmas Party.” Dismantling White Supremacy will require us to identify and be honest about the racial disparities we see in or community… to examine the truth of history and identify pivotal moments that allowed these disparities to grow exponentially… and to actively implement innovative solutions that close these gaps. But when we fail to have honest, critical, and productive dialogues, we fail to acknowledge that these problems are lingering and growing. 

GRIIDA friend of mine said that Grand Rapids does charity real good, but they don’t do justice for shit? How does the function of charity and non-profits fit into the framework of West Michigan Nice?

ShaynaCharity and non-profits are a great example of West Michigan Nice in action. We love a good charitable cause and doing the “Lord’s work” but we forget that this God is a God of Justice, too. What we see in Grand Rapids are vastly wealthy institutions / non-profits that put Band-Aids over bullet wounds. We’d love to “feed the homeless”, but we can’t afford the house the houseless. We’d love to paint pretty murals over riot damage, but we ignore why riots are even happening. It almost seems that it would be more beneficial to the benefactors of these organizations to keep things the way that they are. If there are social problems, there are opportunities to fundraise and to amplify these “non-profits,” but what if we work together to solve these problems? Not to say that all non-profits are explicitly harmful, but there is a long, dark history of philanthropy being used as a form of managerial and structural racism, and we don’t talk about it. We don’t talk about them being a tax shelter for the extremely wealthy or the fact that many of these non-profits do not have internal representation of the communities that they claim to serve. 

GRIIDWhat has been your own personal experience as a Black woman living in this area?

ShaynaAlthough I am a bi-racial Black woman, I have always been keenly aware of my Blackness. I grew up in West Michigan in very white community, and my earliest memory of explicit racism happened when I was in elementary school. I was told by a classmate, nonchalantly, that her father thought it was “disgusting” that my mom was married to a Black man and that I wouldn’t be allowed to attend her birthday party. I was bullied for my body type, my facial features, and my hair for as far back as I can remember. I witnessed my older brother being targeted by a biased school system… and my father being targeted by police. I’ve been told that my natural hair was “unprofessional” by managers, and I’ve been the target of countless “micro-aggressions” (although I prefer the term racist abuse) in just about every workplace I’ve been in. Growing up in a community like this, I always felt ostracized. These experiences became my motivation to educate myself and to understand the root of racism in the United States so that I could be a voice of change. As an adult, I began to see the world through a different lens, and I began to understand how and why these experiences came to be. I have mixed and complicated feelings about living in West Michigan, specifically Grand Rapids. Sometimes I feel defeated because our community is so polarized, and it feels like everything has become a political hot-topic instead of serious issues that need addressing. I wish that more people would genuinely listen to the experiences of others, and I wish that people would understand more about the legacy and history of racism in our city. I’m tired of people acting like we are in a post-racial society and that things would get better if we stopped talking about race. No, things would be better if we had honest conversations about these issues that are turned into solutions and accountability.

GRIIDHow does the reality of West Michigan Nice impact people in Grand Rapids, especially African Americans?

ShaynaUltimately, being West Michigan Nice, means that we are not addressing the issues that affect the community, and we are not being honest about its context or its effects. Many people don’t know about the history of “redlining”, “sundown towns” or the countless other examples of explicit racial discrimination in Grand Rapids because we don’t talk about it. Racism is a public health crisis because of the vast disparities in health outcomes that African American and Latinx citizens face. Many people in this community don’t understand what these disparities are or why they are occurring. Our neighborhoods and schools remain segregated, 60+ years after Brown v Board of Education and we need to ask ourselves: Why? How? From healthcare and housing to education and employment, African Americans face a different reality than our White counterparts. 

GRIIDWhat are some things you think need to happen in Grand Rapids to challenge West Michigan Nice?

ShaynaWe have to TALK. We have to be willing to sit down and engage in critical dialogues, not debates, about these issues. People must be willing to learn from each other and to accept that just maybe we are all playing a role in sustaining racial disparities in our community by refusing to acknowledge these realities and to create sustainable changes. We must “see race,” because it is extremely naïve and ignorant to act like race has not shaped every aspect of our society. If we don’t “see race” how, then, do we get past racism?

I think we also need to educate ourselves and the community about the truth of our community’s history. When I read A City Within A City: the Black Freedom Struggle in Grand Rapids, Michigan, it was a bit of a paradigm shift because it provided so many examples of exactly what Black citizens in Grand Rapids have dealt with in terms of their struggles against White Supremacy in the city. When I read Sundown Towns, I realized that “de-facto segregation” is not the reason why the community is still so segregated, but that we are segregated because of decades of racist policy and practices that were designed to maintain White Supremacy. We must reckon with that fact that even if the majority of our White citizens are not “White Supremacists” we still live in a community that is rooted in those ideologies.

I know that these conversations are very uncomfortable, but we cannot be more concerned with our personal comfort than we are about the suffering of entire communities. People need to understand racism if we ever hope to heal from it and move forward. We must accept that when one community is suffering, it affects every single one of us. And we must work together to take massive action against racism and other forms of discrimination in our community. It’s not going to be easy or comfortable, but it will be worth it in the end when everyone, regardless of race, ethnicity, class, gender and sexual orientation, ability, etc. can thrive and live more harmoniously.